Russia recovered from a slow start to earn first place in UEFA European Under-19 Championship qualifying round Group 10, finishing three points ahead of Sweden who held off Wales and hosts Slovenia for second place.
While only a fine display from Slovenia goalkeeper Aljaž Cotman prevented Russia from opening their campaign with three points – both teams also hitting the woodwork in a goalless draw – the introduction of Andrei Panyukov as centre-forward for the second game with Sweden proved crucial. Panyukov scored twice in the first 20 minutes, Ruslan Bolov adding a third to render Victor Söderström's late response academic.
Sweden had beaten Wales 3-1 in their first fixture, the Welsh resurrecting their own hopes with a 2-1 defeat of hosts Slovenia thanks to a goal in each half from Gethyn Hill – whose own goal brought Slovenia level – and Jack Nardiello.
That meant all four teams had a chance of qualifying heading into the final round, when Sweden snatched a 19th-minute lead against Slovenia through Muamer Tankovic. Claes Eriksson's team were pegged back by Gregor Bajde's spectacular long-range effort early in the second period, however, the 1-1 draw leaving the Swedes sweating on the result from Bakovci.
There Hill put Wales in front in the 64th minute, giving them a lead that would have taken them through to the elite round, but Geraint Williams' side were unable to stave off Russia's all-out attack. Ilya Zuev equalised ten minutes after Hill's opener, and a clever lob from substitute Aleksei Evseev late on secured three points and a place in the elite round.
"We expected such a high quality of teams in this group," said Russia coach Vladimir Scherbak. "We've seen some great battles over the last few days and we're happy to go through to the next round."
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